Canada will have to fight for the attention of a new U.S. secretary of state as the Donald Trump administration zeroes in on the Middle East, Mexico and China, with security issues dominating the agenda.
This week, several potential candidates for the job of top diplomat were discussed as the transition team of president-elect Trump scrambled to build a cabinet that will proceed with foreign-policy initiatives championed during a bruising campaign, some of them highly contentious.
Two front-runners could not be more opposite within the sphere of Mr. Trump – Rudy Giuliani, former New York mayor and unsuccessful 2008 presidential candidate, and Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor and unsuccessful 2012 candidate.
Mr. Giuliani’s support for Mr. Trump has been ardent, unshakeable, at times bordering on outrageous, while Mr. Romney famously denounced Mr. Trump during the campaign, asserting he was unfit for the presidency. Now, one of them (or even another, such as South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley) could be selected to carry out the administration’s global diplomatic tasks.
The trick for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion and International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, will be winning air time with the new administration after a U.S. election campaign that seldom mentioned Canada. The administrations of Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Obama are closely aligned on such issues as trade and climate, and the new U.S. government appears set to veer off.
“We’re talking about potentially a huge transition from the John Kerry-Hillary Clinton era at the State Department,” said Barry Rabe, senior fellow, governance studies, at Washington-based Brookings Institution. “That said, this is an administration that is going to be looking for friends anywhere in the world that it can find, given the level of alienation.”
Among top campaign issues were restricting immigration, taking a tougher stand in the fight against Islamic State and renegotiating trade deals like the North American free-trade agreement. Although Canada is a signatory to NAFTA, its huge trade relationship with the United States – worth $2.4-billion per day – did not factor in a lot of the talk.
“The Canadian relationship has clearly been overlooked. In North America, the issue right now is Mexico. It’s a hot-button issue and it’s likely to continue,” Mr. Rabe said.
One cross-border exception is the Republicans’ aim to resurrect TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Canadian officials have expressed fear about a new protectionist ethos in the United States. These were stoked by a memo obtained by CNN showing Canada’s softwood-lumber and livestock producers are being targeted by Mr. Trump’s transition team, which aims to extract more favourable terms in a renegotiation of NAFTA.
This is in keeping with the president-elect’s speeches, which hammered away at the theme that the U.S. is shortchanged in trade deals at the cost of jobs and economic growth.
Whether Mr. Giuliani gets the nod as secretary of state, he is expected to have a key role in the administration, given his close relationship with Mr. Trump. Like the president-elect, his roots are outside the Washington Republican establishment, as represented by chief of staff Reince Priebus, who’s been RNC chairman.
The former mayor and one-time U.S. attorney and associate attorney-general is known for an international perspective that is shaped by his experience after the 9/11 attacks, according to a recent New York Times profile. He was praised for his leadership during the crisis, which helped rescue his reputation in the wake of several controversial and unpopular moves during his tenure as mayor.
Since leaving civic office, he has worked the speaking circuit and has been advising foreign governments as well as the private sector on dealing with terrorism and security. His main focus has not been Canada, though he has sharply criticized its health-care system.
“My understanding is that he’s been to Canada, he knows Canada, he has an appreciation and probably positive feelings toward Canada for a couple of reasons. Our response to 9/11, and the trade and the tourism between Canada and New York. So we’re not an unknown factor to Rudy Giuliani,” said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who had consulate postings in New York and Los Angeles.
Mr. Giuliani’s road to the State Department could be complicated by his business dealings.
His work with governments is receiving the most scrutiny. But Mr. Giuliani’s consulting for TransCanada in 2007 on its plan to store liquefied natural gas on the Long Island Sound is also getting notice. If appointed secretary of state, Mr. Giuliani would have a major say in whether to green light a resubmitted proposal for the controversial Keystone XL project. In Calgary, TransCanada would not comment on Mr. Giuliani’s work for the pipeline company.
Mr. Robertson said the secretary of state will be very much a proxy for the new president, regardless of who the choice is.
“In my experience, the tone comes from the top. Whether it was Hillary Clinton or John Kerry, or Condi Rice or Colin Powell, the personal relationships have all been uniformly good. We make an effort, they make an effort,” he said.
That sentiment is echoed by Gary Doer, who was Canada’s ambassador to the United States from 2009 until last March.
“We’re their biggest customer and a person like Donald Trump is a business person who understands that you take care of your best customers first,” Mr. Doer said.
With a file from Kelly CrydermanReport Typo/Error